A heart attack (also called myocardial infarction or MI) occurs when blood flow from the coronary arteries to the heart is reduced or blocked completely. When this happens, the heart muscle is starved of oxygen and nutrients which results in damage to the heart.
Some symptoms of a heart attack may seem obvious, like sudden chest pain, but other signs are considered “silent” because people may often not recognize them as symptoms of a heart attack.
Silent signs of a heart attack may include:
- Mild chest pressure or discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Cold sweats/clammy skin
- Pain, tingling, or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach
Other symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Chest pain (angina)
- May feel like squeezing or fullness
- Lasts for more than a few minutes
- May go away and come back
- Racing or irregular heartbeat
- Extreme fatigue
Chest pain or discomfort occurs in both men and women, but women are more likely to experience shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, dizziness or lightheadedness, extreme fatigue, and back or jaw pain during a heart attack.
A heart attack is a medical emergency. If you think you might be having a heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately. Do not drive yourself to the hospital.
What Causes a Heart Attack?
Coronary artery disease, a condition that develops over time in which plaque builds up along on the walls of the coronary arteries and narrows the channels through which blood flows, is the primary cause of most heart attacks. If a plaque ruptures a blood clot can occur which can block off the artery and prevent blood from reaching parts of the heart muscle, causing a heart attack.
Less common causes of heart attack include:
- Temporary spasm of a coronary artery
- Spontaneous coronary artery dissection, which is a tearing of the coronary artery wall
How Is a Heart Attack Diagnosed?
In addition to a patient history and physical exam, if a heart attack is suspected, diagnostic tests may include:
What Is the Treatment for a Heart Attack?
A heart attack is a medical emergency. If you have symptoms, call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital’s emergency department immediately. Do not attempt to drive yourself.
Immediate treatment for a heart attack in a hospital’s emergency department may include:
- Pain medications
- Anticoagulants to prevent blood clots
- Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
- Thrombolytics (clot busters) given intravenously (IV)
A surgical treatment for heart attack is coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery, in which a blocked coronary artery is bypassed using a healthy blood vessel from another part of the body.
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